Reps. Roskam, Jenkins lead call for DOJ to return seized assets to taxpayers

U.S. Reps. Peter Roskam (R-IL) and Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) led members of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee in demanding information from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) about its decision to deny petitions for the return of taxpayer funds unreasonably seized by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in civil asset forfeiture cases.

Reps. Roskam, Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Jenkins, and U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, led 18 members of the committee in seeking an explanation from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a letter dated July 19.

Rep. Roskam, the former chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight, has for years worked to end the practice of the IRS unfairly seizing assets from taxpayers. Specifically, the committee has investigated the IRS using its civil asset forfeiture authority in cases where taxpayers allegedly structured cash transactions to avoid reporting requirements under the Bank Secrecy Act. It was brought to light that of the small business owners that had their bank accounts seized by the IRS, a majority had committed no underlying crime, such as money laundering or drug trafficking, which was confirmed by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), the letter said.

“Since our investigation began in 2015, we found that far too many American taxpayers have had funds that were rightfully theirs seized unfairly by the government,” the lawmakers wrote. “Yet the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) continues to block the return of those funds despite recommendations from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to return them.”

During an Oversight Subcommittee hearing in June, the IRS admitted to using flawed policies to seize assets from taxpayers based on structuring and agreed to change its practices, a statement from the Ways and Means Committee said. The DOJ, however, has refused to acknowledge faults and has largely elected to deny petitions for the return of seized assets, the statement added.

“We are deeply concerned that these taxpayers are not being treated fairly by DOJ — the very agency entrusted to administer justice,” the congressmen wrote.

The letter cited the significant discrepancy between the IRS’s recommended outcomes and DOJ’s final decisions.

The IRS has received 464 petitions for remission or mitigation of seized assets, 208 of which were for administrative forfeitures and were not referred to the DOJ, the letter notes. The IRS granted 84 percent of those petitions — however, the DOJ granted just 16 percent of the remaining 256 petitions that were referred for review. Seized assets in those cases total about $22.2 million, according to the letter.

“While some may argue legal technicalities justify the overwhelming denial of these petitions, we strongly urge DOJ to take a step back and reassess the facts and circumstances surrounding these cases,” the lawmakers said. “What was done was not fair, just, or right in most cases.”

The letter was signed by U.S. Reps. Diane Black (R-TN), Vern Buchanan (R-FL), Erik Paulsen (R-MN), Tom Reed (R-NY), Mike Kelly (R-PA) Jim Renacci (R-OH), Kristi Noem (R-SD), Jackie Walorski (R-IN), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Mike Bishop (R-MI), Darin LaHood (R-IL) and Brad Wenstrup (R-OH).

“In the strongest terms, we again urge DOJ to utilize the broad discretion given to it when reviewing petitions for mitigation, prioritizing both the recommendations of the IRS and the findings of TIGTA, and return these funds,” the lawmakers wrote. They also requested that the Attorney General meet with members of the committee as soon as possible to discuss the matter further.